by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON I get to the park extra early for fifth game of the Carolina Mudcats' series against the Jacksonville Suns, with the hosts needing two wins to salvage a tie.
The mission is to connect with Mudcats southpaw Travis Wood, for a feature story about him as one of the minor leagues' top prospects for another website.
But Wood doesn't seem to be around, and it takes a while to find out why.
"Didn't you hear?" one teammate says. "He got promoted to Triple-A."
Since it's not my first day doing this, I ask manager David Bell if his team has had any transactions since last night's contest.
Bell answers in the negative and confirms the more plausible clubhouse rumor that Wood - who does arrive in time to pick up a certificate for two earlier Southern League pitcher of the week awards in a pregame presentation - had to make an unplanned trip to the dentist.
That's about 45 minutes I'll never get back, but "hurry up and wait" has long been a reality of sports journalism.
At least I have plenty of time to fill out my scorebook - which is dangerously close to being full already - and get some computer things accomplished after making my pregame cheeseburger disappear.
(Spoiler alert, the Mudcats fall 6-2 for their third straight loss, and after the game center fielder Chris Heisey, pictured, - who will play in the Major League Futures Game on July 12 - is promoted to Triple-A Louisville.)
Tonight, UNC Wilmington and Kinston High alum Chris Hatcher will catch for Jacksonville.
Jacksonville gets to Dallas Buck for one run in the first. Former Mudcat Bryan Petersen leads off with an infield single to the left side, takes third on former Mudcat Kevin Randel's double to right and scores on Logan Morrison's grounder to short.
The Mudcats even things in the bottom half. After Sean Henry reaches on an infield hit to third and Jose Castro gets on on a 6-4 fielder's choice, Logan Parker rips a double to right with Henry scoring on an errant throw from right fielder Mike Stanton.
Jacksonville goes up 2-1 with two out in the second, as Hatcher doubles to left and later scored on Petersen's double to left.
It gets worse for Carolina in the third as the Suns tack on three more. Morrison walks, and after a 1-0 pitch Jerry Gil relieves Buck when the starter's shoulder begins to hurt too badly to continue. Stanton walks before former Mudcat Scott Cousins rips an RBI double to right. With one out, Tim Torres picks up the RBI on a grounder to first, and then Cousins comes home on a balk.
And even though it isn't raining, it seems to be pouring for the home boys. Randel hits a two-out triple that forces Shawn Cumberland to go hard against the left-field wall, and Cumberland becomes the second Mudcat to leave the game injured. (After the game, he has a particularly nasty shiner from the ball ricocheting off the wall into his left eye.)
Carolina gets another run in the fourth. Heisey singles and is erased when Parker reached on a fielder's choice, and Carson Kainer's two-out single to right makes it 5-2.
(The message board says Heisey's paternal grandparents are visiting from Pennsylvania and celebrating their 72nd wedding anniversary. 1937. I'm speechless.)
Jacksonville tacks on another in the seventh as Torres reaches on Henry's two-out error in right, then scores when Hatcher's fly ball to center gets over Heisey for a triple.
Here's what they said ...
Heisey: "What can I say? I'm excited. I didn't expect to be going to the Futures Game and I didn't expect this either. I know most of the guys up there so it should be an easy transition. I just need to go up there and make the best of it. I feel blessed."
Bell: "I don't expect to see (Heisey) here again. He's done a great job. We're playing a little short right now so we'll have to see what happens. ... Gil was huge for us. He did a great job coming in for Buck and pitching four innings. I consider him (a former position player) to be an extra bat right now, too."
Hatcher: "I've been hitting pretty well lately, about the last 10 or 12 games. It's funny, the two hits I got were on pitches I wasn't looking for. The outs came when I got the pitches I was looking for. See ball, hit ball, right?"
Entertainer "Myron Noodleman" will appear at Saturday's game.
What does it all mean?
That after five games in the half, Jacksonville is in first place in the Southern League's South Division and the Mudcats are in last place in the North.
Stars of the game
1. Hatcher, who had the triple and double with an RBI and as run scored.
2. Winning pitcher Christhian Martinez, with a quality start.
3. Gil, for eating up four innings and getting an infield hit in the fifth.
Play of the game
Cousins' double in the third that made it 3-1.
Suns lead 8-7.
Carolina: Lost 3.
Jacksonville: Lost 3.
Carolina: CF Chris Heisey promoted to Louisville (post-game).
Jacksonville at Mudcats, Saturday, 6:15 p.m.
Nic Ungs (right, 2-1, 1.57) vs. Jordan Smith (right, 4-2, 3.13)